We’ve heard it, but we seldom take action on the idea.
It isn’t really because we don’t know how to listen or even that we don’t understand the value of listening – we know and we understand and yet we still don’t do it.
It’s a paradox. It’s confusing.
It’s the human condition.
So rather than trying to teach you skills or admonish you to do what you already know is extremely valuable, I’m going to give your four ideas, what I call the big ears approach to listening, that will help you think about listening in a new ways. Even better when you apply the big ears approach, listening will come easier and be less forced – because when you apply these ideas, the natural outcome is better listening.
Sound like a good idea? If so, keep listening (ok, well, reading). . .
Elevate. Think about a time when someone really listened to you. When the interaction was over, how did you feel? Were your overwhelming positive feelings caused by the fact that you knew the other person understood your message? No, it is more than that, isn’t it? Yes, we want our message heard, but when someone really listens to us, we feel valued and meaningful. Listening isn’t about being a human tape recorder and it isn’t a mechanical process. When we really listen, we change feelings and build relationships and trust. When you elevate the purpose of listening, you will naturally listen better more of the time.
Admire. Have you ever met someone you really admire? Whether it was a childhood hero, a famous person or someone who has been highly successful in an endeavor you care about, you listen to them don’t you? You don’t have to try, you just do it. One barrier to our listening is that we don’t really think that the other person has anything new or valuable to say. If we think we already know what they are going to say, or already know the information they are going to share, it is much easier for our brains to be distracted from their message. If you want to naturally and automatically listen better, start with a belief that they have something valuable or interesting to say – and the best way to build that expectation is with a basic admiration for that person.
Relate. In school there were some classes I really struggled to pay attention to the lectures. It typically wasn’t that the content was over my head; it was that I was bored. Our brains operate faster than is required for us to take in the words of others. When we are really listening we are harnessing that extra brain power to focus on the message of the speaker. One of the best ways to naturally harness that power and focus is to relate the message to something you do care about, are interested in and already understand. The process of relating more effectively to the message and the speaker naturally helps us listen better.
Serve. Have you ever been involved in a project to better the lives of others or of your community? Have you ever been drawn into an activity not for recognition or money, but for the joy of doing it? When we are operating from a purpose beyond ourselves, we are serving. And while we are doing that, while we might be exerting much energy, we are doing it willingly. When we realize that true listening is a service to others, we change our listening paradigm. True listening happens so infrequently to us in life that it is like a red letter day on the calendar when it does happen. Remember your reaction to my initial question about how you feel when someone listens to you? Listening is a service to others. When you go into any conversation with a service approach, your listening behaviors will immediately improve.
Listening is hard.
The point of the Big Ears approach is to focus on other factors that lead us to listen naturally and without thinking about it. Apply one or more of these approaches, and watch your listening habits soar.